Color-Coded Syringes:  
A System for Sleep-Deprived Parents

Have you ever had the experience of drawing up a med and then finding yourself so tired that you cannot even remember which med you just drew up?  After this happened to me a few times, I realized how easy it would be to make medication errors.  My daughter gets about 50 total doses of medication through her GJ tube each day, which are given at 8 different times during the day.  It’s a lot to keep track of, especially since she has so many other treatments and procedures she requires.  In my daughter’s case, a medication error could be critical--even fatal--since her medications include narcotics and other critical drugs.


In order to combat this problem, I developed a system of medication administration using colored syringes to help me keep everything straight.  


The System

The foundation of this system is colored syringes made by Comar and available through Health Care Logistics.  To my knowledge, this is the only company that makes syringes in multiple colors.  The syringes are available in 1ml, 3ml, 5ml, and 10ml sizes in five different plunger colors:  white, red, blue, yellow, and green.  You can get clear barrels or amber ones.  All syringes come with white caps.


Even if your child has a lot of meds, by combining different color plungers, clear or amber barrels, and different size syringes, you can make 40 potential combinations.  I find I only really need 10 different types for my daughter’s medications.  Each individual liquid medication is assigned to one particular syringe color and size.  For example, my daughter’s Valium is in a red 3ml syringe with amber barrel; her Nortriptyline is in a blue 1ml syringe with clear barrel; and her Iron is in a yellow 1ml syringe with clear barrel.  I also use a separate larger syringe for mixing tablets and powders together.  

To further improve the system, you can mark each bottle of medication with the matching color using regular markers.  This is especially helpful if you have nurses or other caregivers who may not be familiar with your color-coded system.

The major downside to this system is you have to invest in a lot of syringes initially.  Health Care Logistics sells them in packs of 50, which range from $11-15 depending on size.  If you need lots of different styles, this may cost you $100 or more initially.  The good news is that these syringes last a really long time.  It is not unusual for us to use the same syringe for six or more months.  The plungers are solid plastic (no rubber pieces!) and never wear out.  Eventually the numbers do wear off the outside of the syringes.  Also note that these syringes do not fit directly into a MicKey button and you will need to use an extension set to give meds.

If you don’t want to make such a financial investment, or your home health agency provides a different brand of syringes, another option is color-coding caps.  Health Care Logistics sells two different kinds of caps in multiple colors.  One is a generic set for oral dispensers, available in blue, green, pink, purple, and white at $9.30 for a pack of 100.   They also sell caps for the Baxa Exacta-Med system in green, pink, purple, red, and yellow at $5.80 for a pack of 100.   Make sure the caps will fit whatever type of syringes you have before purchasing, as these caps won’t work with all oral syringes.  Health Care Logistics is great about sending you out a sample before you purchase a larger pack if you are unsure if they will fit.

So far, Health Care Logistics has not made available a multi-colored pack of either syringes or caps.  Hopefully these will become available in the future.  


Advantages of This System

The main advantage of this system is that there will be less medication errors.  It is much easier to see exactly which med is which, if the dosage is correct, and to know which medications have been given and which still need to be given.

If you draw up a full day’s worth (or a week’s worth!) of medications in advance, it makes it very easy to ensure your child is getting all of the correct medications at the correct times, since you can tell which med is which at a glance.

I have also found that I can limit the amount of cleaning I need to do.  Since each med has its own unique syringe, I can reuse the same syringe throughout the day without worrying about cross-contamination of meds.  We only wash syringes once a day with this system.

We’ve been using this system for more than five years and I’m still reusing the initial 250 syringes I purchased.  All in all, it has been a very economical system that has dramatically reduced medication errors for my daughter.  



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 Author:  Susan Agrawal
 Date Uploaded:  3/19/2012